What’s the right pacing for your promotional copy?

A direct response letter – whether it’s for fundraising or for a consumer or B2B product –tends to take on a life of its own. It has a tone, a voice, an overall feel.

A big part of creating that feel is pacing – how the letter moves along once the reader starts into it, how it progresses from beginning to end.

Here are a couple of good examples from the fundraising world.

The first is from Mercy Home, a well-known charity. The letter comes in a window envelope without any teaser.

At the top of the letter is a Johnson Box that says, “If you read one letter from me this year, please read this one … because what I’m about to tell you is a limited-time opportunity – and concerns the future of every child at Mercy Home.”

Then the letter begins:

Dear Mrs. Joan Sample,

I met recently with a member of our Board of Directors, a good friend of Mercy Home. And he gave me some of the biggest news I’ve heard in a very long time.

He told me that if I can raise $52,000 by August 31 for our kids, he will match it with another $52,000!

Allow me to explain.

That means if you send a gift of $10 to help our kids right now – you’ll really be offering a total gift of $20 toward giving our kids the second chance they desperately need!

Okay, it’s a matching grant appeal, a fairly commonplace offer to donors in which each gift is doubled by a charitable grant. But in this letter, it took a Johnson box and four paragraphs to get the reader to that point.

Now compare that with a completely different way of pacing, this one from Bible League.

The envelope has the teaser, “Now your gift will go twice as far! See inside …”

At the top of the letter is a brief and direct overline – “Special grant will double your gift!” – and the letter dives right in.

Dear Mrs. Joan Sample,

Great news! Now your gift goes twice as far. You can place twice as many Bibles in the hands of the spiritually hungry who are begging for an opportunity to read God’s Word.

Imagine – twice as many! And the best part is, there’s no need to add even one extra cent to the amount of your donation. I’m thrilled to tell you this, because demand for scripture is exploding. Here’s how it works …

Notice the difference between these two approaches. The first mailing sidles up to the reader gingerly, almost tentatively. There’s the plain envelope, the Johnson box that refers somewhat vaguely to need. And even when the letter begins, it takes its time getting around to the matching grant, and then goes on to explain how the grant works.

All of this is no doubt deliberate. Mercy Homes knows its donors. Maybe the charity rarely offers a matching grant and feels it must allow donors the time to warm up to the idea. Or maybe the slower pacing is simply intended to match the sentiments of its donors base, most of whom are seniors.

It’s completely different from the second letter, the one from Bible League.

Right from the get-go, this letter takes aim at the donor’s gift. The teaser on the envelope puts the matching grant squarely in the donor’s sights. The overline on the letter reinforces it, and then the letter immediately presents the benefit to the donor – the fact that her donation will be automatically doubled.

Where the first letter is relaxed and calm in the way that it brings readers along, the second one is more rushed, more in-your-face, more of an overt push for a donation.

These are two widely different ways of going about pacing a letter. It’s not that fast pacing is better than slow or that an overt push is better than a more subtle one. It just depends. Just as salesperson will sometimes mirror the gestures and expressions of his prospect, the pacing of a letter has to match up with the temperament of the reader. When it comes to results, getting that right makes all the difference.

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